11 - 12 September 2017 | Boston, MA

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why I Will Be Attending Digital Pharma East

Rich Meyer initiated quite a controversy on his World of DTC Marketing blog when he posted a "guest" article by an anonymous "Senior Director for a top pharmaceutical company" who explained why he won't be attending ExL Pharma's Digital Pharma East conference this fall.

Like my friend and fellow conference-goer Zoe Dunn, I have "such a pet peeve with people hiding behind an anonymous post without owning it." It's too bad that some pharma people feel the need to hide their identities when expressing their personal opinions.

Meyer says there are "legal and regulatory roadblocks from his company" that prevent the author from identifying himself! That excuse sounds familiar -- it's the same excuse many pharma marketers have for not doing more in the digital realm despite the fact that their audience is there (read "Pharma DTC Advertising Spend vs. Time Consumers Spend in Various Media").

Before I critique the author's argument, some full disclosure. Pharma Marketing News, which I publish, is a Media Partner for this event, which means that ExL Pharma is a client of mine. In fact, almost ALL pharma conference producers are clients of mine and I get to attend many of these conferences because I get press passes or I get free registration because I am a speaker. In fact, I will be speaking -- for 5 minutes -- at the end of Mobile Day at Digital Pharma East where I will announce the winners of the 5th Annual PharmaGuy Social Media Pioneer Award.

Now, on to my critique. Also, at the end of this post see comments from Jayson Mercado, Head of Digital Events at ExL Pharma. For some reason, Jayson's comments were deleted from the World of DTC Marketing blog.

I feel the pain of the author when he complains about the cost of attending these conferences. I realize that many pharma people who want to go to these meetings do not go for various reasons -- budget is just one reason.

The author, however, cites a "travel budget over $30,000 to let my people go to this conference." Yikes! How many people is he talking about? Are these people traveling from the West Coast or Europe? Did you know that there are conferences in those locations as well?

In any case, my advice is to reward just ONE deserving person on your team to attend and report back. Surely, a "top pharmaceutical company" has the budget for that.

IMHO, most pharma marketers need to learn more about digital and mobile marketing and attending a conference such as Digital Pharma East is a good way to do that -- not just from the presentations, but also from talking in the halls and vendor showcase areas. In the world of pharma budgets, the cost of one person attending an industry conference is pretty reasonable.

BTW, even if you do not attend you can follow the conference via Twitter. Many attendees -- including me -- will be live tweeting from the conference. Also, I hope to write up reviews of one or two presentations. All that is free, made possible by attendees who pay their way. Thank you!

Speaking of vendors, the author vents: "there will be just as many vendors attending the conference as people from pharma and they are all waiting to pounce on our unallocated budget dollars. In the oast (sic) I have found that these vendors are just waiting to get my business card so they can bombard me with emails, phone calls and invitations to connect on LinkedIn."

This is funny coming from a pharma marketer. Doesn't the author realize that he is the "pot calling the kettle black" (or is it the kettle calling the pot black)?

I wonder how many consumers out there never visit a pharma website because they are afraid it will capture their information and "bombard" them with emails? It's happened to me several times!

My advice to the author, if he should ever attend a conference, is: CHILL! You  do not have to give any vendor your business card. Of course, sponsors pay to know who the attendees are and you probably will get contacted AFTER the conference. I would hardly call it "bombarding" and you can politely tell them not to send you any more email -- US anti-spam laws require them to comply. But the author should know that already based on his presumed email marketing experience.

The author also disses the presenters and says "Look at the presenter’s credentials on LinkedIn. Is there anyone there that you would really like to sit sown (sic; the author must have fat fingers!) with and have a cup of coffee with? More importantly has anyone there really set the digital pharmaceutical world on fire? The answer to that is no."

Well, here is where we may need to use the "regulatory/legal" excuse. Many pharma companies do not want to have their people "toot their own horns" about successful digital campaigns because that would give their competitors ideas. In any case, it's unlikely that pharma marketers will "set the digital world on fire," so don't set your expectations too high when attending this or any other industry conference.

Still, I think of all the pharma conferences out there, Digital Pharma East is one of the best and that includes the faculty, which includes some non-pharma people you should definitely hear from and meet.

For example, Jeremy Anderson, Head of Healthcare at TWITTER, will be on a panel with Melissa Mackey, Head US Social Media, NOVARTIS. I've never seen a Twitter person at one of these conferences and I definitely want to corner Jeremy and ask his opinion of FDA's recent social media guidance and how Twitter may respond to help pharma marketers (read, for example, "A Type of Rx Drug Tweet FDA Did Not Consider in its Recent Guidance").

BTW, I met Ms. Mackey -- known as MACK_ATTACK on Twitter -- at last year's conference. She's a hoot! And I definitely would like to have a cup of coffee with her. Go and bother her on LinkedIn here. She won't care, I hope :-)

I can go on about other presenters who I believe are at least trying to set the pharma digital world on fire, but you should be the judge and not depend on one person's opinion -- not mine, and especially not the opinion of one anonymous author who may have an axe to grind.

In any case, if you go to Digital Pharma East, look for me in the Hawaiian shirt and sporty Fedora style Cuban hat!

Here are Jayson's comments:
"My name is Jayson Mercado and I oversee all of the digital marketing events at ExL Pharma, including Digital Pharma East. DP East has seen it's attendance grow every year from both the agency and the brand side. This year's registrations are ahead of where we were last year, again including pharma companies sending groups. While this trend has me optimistic, I don't take the growth for granted and realize that there are always ways to make improvements.

"We do extensive research with our pharma marketing colleagues year-round and find that most of them readily agree with your opinion that the industry is lagging behind on digital. We've increased the number of out-of-industry perspectives this year, not only with Intel, but with Ford, Tumblr, LinkedIn, GrubHub, Twitter, Google and others still to be confirmed.

"Yes, pharma's behind, that's a fact. But I am of the opinion that progress will be stimulated by sharing ideas, hearing stories of successes and failures from your pharma peers, evaluating what works in other industries, and yes even listening to the ideas of agencies and solution providers who have experience working with other life science companies you benchmark against as well as oftentimes marketers in other industries. All of this is facilitated at industry conferences.

"I take pride in the fact that we've grown to be the largest event out there. That wouldn't be possible if successful partnerships weren't being forged at the event and if attendees weren't taking actionable learnings back to the office. No, I don't expect every speaker to "light the world on fire", but I do know that they're all putting themselves out there in an effort to help move the industry forward even an inch and it's unfair to criticize them for what they are not instead of appreciating them for what they are. I expect most attendees to come out of the event with tangible benefits and learnings, and ultimately we owe that to the speakers who are willing to share their stories at the risk of being criticized.

"While I would've loved to hear these opinions first in a less public forum, I appreciate the honesty and discourse nonetheless. We're never going to grow the event without listening to the opinions of the industry, positive and negative. I'd love the opportunity to schedule a call or a meeting to hear your opinions and ideas not just on the event but how we can help facilitate progress in digital at your organization and the industry in general."

Jayson added via email: "We understand the pharma company budgets have been tightening. We work with almost every pharma company on the 60+ conferences a year we run, so would have no problem customizing something discounted for those companies that want to send their teams but are dealing with budget crunches. They can feel free to contact me directly so I can try to work something out." Call Jayson at 212-400-6236 and or send an email to jmercado@exlpharma.com

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